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Communication in the Movie The Pursuit of Happyness

Communication in the Movie The Pursuit of Happyness

The movie The Pursuit of Happyness is an adaptation of Chris Gardner’s true story. Chris Gardner is an African American specialist in investments. The story successfully interprets how, as a broke salesperson taking care of his son and on the brink of utter bankruptcy, he makes his way out of poverty and into the life he had dreamed for himself and his son. It is a classic story of rag to-riches and inspiration for those chasing after the American Dream. In this story, Chris is focused on his goal of becoming happy, and with that, he endures the many trials and tribulations of raising a son in the harsh streets of San Francisco. This paper will discuss four concepts of the movie; culture, emotional messages, listening, and the self. The paper will also discuss four elements of communication with examples from the movie: source, feedback, interference, and receiver.

The Four Concepts in the Movie

The Concept of Culture

The dominant culture is that of African Americans and their endless pursuit of equality and achieving the American dream. Chris Gardiner, an Afro-American protagonist, may be viewed as the representative of all Blacks, and his pursuit of happiness is reinvested with new meaning. The film’s theme is an interpretation of the American dream that many Blacks hold on to as opposed to the simple American dream.

Individualism is the essence of the US culture, where the philosophy asserts that everyone has freedom and value for self-fulfillment (Bazzi et al., 2020). In this movie, Chris is individualistic in every sense of the word because he seeks self-fulfillment. He is hard-working, self-reliant, and independent and will not let anything come in the way of attaining his goal in life.

Power distance is the manner in which the distribution of power and the extent to which persons accept the unequal distribution of power (Lian et al., 2012). Chris accepted to work at a brokerage firm with no pay despite the firm making money. He was the underdog who worked even better than the employed but got no pay because he lacked higher education.

The culture is also a low context which means information is communicated precisely, explicitly, and directly (Croucher et al., 2012). In this movie, the characters communicate in a direct way; there are instances where foul street language is used; for example, Chris and his son come across a graffiti painting with the f-word on Christopher’s daycare wall. Christopher asks his father whether the f-word is spelled correctly, to which his father responds that it is not a word he needs to learn nor part of the school motto.

Ethnocentricity is the belief that one ethnic group is superior to another (Parekh, 2019). Because Chris is black and lacks a higher education, the staff at the brokerage firm assume that he cannot excel as they have in the business. Mr. Frakesh takes it upon himself to waste Chris’ time as much as possible and gives him the job of moving his car and getting him coffee daily.

The Concept of Emotional Messages

Chris tried to reach a state of happiness, and he believed this would come only after he was financially successful. At one time, in a point of despair, he discouraged his son from being a basketball player and then quickly apologized for his utterance. When Christopher makes a strong but errant shot with his new basketball, Chris tells him: “You’ll excel at a lot of things, but not [basketball],” When Chris notices that Christopher is downcast, he realizes his error and tells him: “Don’t ever let somebody tell you you can’t do something. Not even me. All right? You got a dream? You gotta protect it. People can’t do something themselves, they want to tell you you can’t do it. You want something, go get it. Period.” In using the SCREAM anger management method S- Self: it was important for Chris to express his anger to his son because he needed to express his frustration. C-Context: Chris did not have to express his anger immediately. R-Receiver: Christopher did not deserve to be the recipient of Chris’ anger. E-Effect: Chris wanted Christopher to understand immediately that things would not always be as straightforward and failure is a part of life that needs to be embraced. A-Aftermath: Christopher was saddened by his father’s outburst, which made him. M-Message: Chris retracted his statement and told Christopher that he should never let anyone tell him that he can never achieve anything in life.

The Concept of Listening

Comprehensive listening requires one to have the basic skills of vocabulary in order to understand communication via the words of the speaker (Nemtchinova, 2013). Chris is able to communicate and listen to his son Christopher in English and vice versa throughout the movie. The movie is also in English, and the characters communicate in the same language. Also, Chris explains to Christopher the correct spelling of the word ‘happiness,’ which is incorrectly written as ‘happiness’.

Evaluative listening involves making judgments about what the speaker is saying (Tyagi, 2013). In the interview scene, Chris knows he is wrong in going in while improperly dressed. When the boss asks him, ‘What would you say if a guy walked in for an interview without a shirt on, and I hired him? What would you say?’ Chris is able to evaluate what the boss is saying and knows that his answer will determine whether he gets hired or not. To that, Chris tactfully answers: ‘He must have had on some really nice pants.’

Empathetic listening is a structured technique of listening and questioning that allows a person to develop a relationship and enhance it with a stronger understanding of the message being conveyed both emotionally and intellectually (Cuny et al., 2012). The scene that best describes this is when the owner of the room Chris was renting comes to demand payment, and Chris pleads with him to give him more time; the two agree that Chris would stay for an extra week, but he was going to have to paint the room for free.

Appreciative listening is a way of listening where someone goes in search of specific auditory information that the person appreciates or likes (Brownell, 2015). Chris asks Mr. Twistle to share a cab ride with him. When he realizes that Twistle is not listening to him as he narrates how he (Chris) can work under pressure, Chris offers to solve the Rubik’s cube. This gets Mr. Twistle’s attention, and a relationship is formed as Chris finally solves the Rubik’s puzzle.

Interrupting is when communication is cut short by an external source or sometimes an internal source of noise or thought. When Chris and his son arrive late at the CEO’s house, and they go to play baseball, the CEO tells Chris to put the bone density scanner he carries around with him in his car, to which Christopher responds that his father does not own a car. At this point, to hide his embarrassment and to hopefully deter the communication, Chris lets out a scream as though something has bitten him.

Daydreaming is fantasizing about what one would want to do or wishes on what would happen. A harrowing night of being homeless finds Chris and his son in a deserted Bay Area Rapid Transit stop. The two start on a daydreaming game where they imagine that the bone density machine is a time travel device. Christopher joins in the game, and the two flee from a T-Rex and hide in a cave which, in an actual sense, is a public restroom, and spend the rest of the night there. Chris holds the door of the bathroom shut with his foot and begins to cry as he watches his son sleep on his lap soundly.

The Concept of Self

Self-concept describes how one perceives the self (Hattie, 2014), and, in this movie, Chris is determined to make it in life though he sees himself as a lesser person than those who appear successful. He pauses in the streets and thinks to himself that all persons from the brokerage firm looked so happy and were indeed very happy; unlike him, he was unhappy. He believes he is unhappy though he tells Christopher that as long as his son is happy, then he was happy as well. This was not true.

Chris’s self-image is that of a go-getter. He invests his life savings in the bone density machine, believing he is a good enough salesman. When this fails, he pursues his dream of becoming a stockbroker even when he knows he does not have a college degree to do so.

Chris’s self-esteem is battered several times, mainly because of his failed bone density machine business and his failed relationship with Linda. He also cries when it dawns on him that his son has to face life struggles because of his inability to provide him with shelter and other basic needs. Chris is self-aware of the circumstances in his life (Fletcher & Bailey, 2003), yet he believes in his own intellectual abilities. He explains to Mr. Twistle that he was able to perform medical procedures as his former boss, a doctor, played golf. He has never solved a Rubik’s cube but believes he is smart enough to do it. He also knows for certain that, given a chance, he can make for a good stockbroker.

Four Communication Elements

Source refers to the person communicating and is the one that imagines, creates, and sends to the receiver the message (Heath & Bryant, 2013). Christopher tells his father:Hey, Dad, you wanna hear something funny? There was a man who was drowning, and a boat came, and the man on the boat said, “Do you need help?” and the man said, “No thanks, God will save me.” Then another boat came, and he tried to help him, but he said, “No thanks, God will save me” then he drowned and went to Heaven. Then the man told God, “God, why didn’t you save me?” and God said, “I sent you two big boats to give you a second chance!” Christopher wants to send a message to his dad that will bear meaning and that he hopes the dad will understand. The message is that of encouragement, and Chris knows that his son is encouraging him not to give up. The dad thinks the joke is funny but puts to mind what his son is communicating to him.

Feedback refers to when a person responds to the source, whether intentionally or without the intention of doing so. Feedback comprises messages that are sent by the receiver to the source (Thomas & Arnold, 2011). An example is when Chris sees a man pull up in a red Ferrari. Although the two are strangers to each other, Chris is courageous to ask a question and expects feedback from the stranger: “I just have two questions for you. What do you do, and how do you do it?” The man responds, “I am a stockbroker.” Chris: “Have to go to college to be a stockbroker, right?” Man: “Not necessarily. You just have to be good with numbers and good with people.” This answer makes Chris observe the people coming in and out of the building, and he notices that they are very happy. Chris wants to be as happy as the people and decides he wants to be a broker as well.

A receiver listens, sees, touches, smells, and sometimes tastes to receive a message. From this, the receiver can interpret the message from the source (Mansumitrchai, 2018). After spending a night in jail for parking ticket arrears, Chris is released, and he runs all the way to his interview. When he gets there, he explains why he looks the way he does but adds: “Can I say something? Um, I’m the type of person that if you ask me a question and I don’t know the answer, I’m gonna tell you that I don’t know. But I bet you what, I know how to find the answer and I will find the answer.” In this scene, Chris’s appearance gave the wrong impression to the receiver, who, in this case, were the interviewers. Chris knew that his disheveled look would be misinterpreted as his carelessness over getting a job interview and was quick to reassure the interviewers that he was more than just what they were seeing.

Interference may be referred to as noise and can come from any source. As Chris is sitting in a bus booth wondering where to go next in selling his bone density scanner, a homeless man comes up to him and says: ‘Is that a time machine?… It’s a time machine…I know it’s a time machine.’ The homeless man goes away, to which Chris thinks: “This machine in my lap? It is not a time machine.”


The movie is one that is emotional as it is inspirational. Blacks in the US have to struggle to make it in a society that is still racist and which believes that a Black man is destined to be poor. The movie is a strong reminder that even against all odds, a person can succeed in whatever dream they have; one only needs to focus and get to their destiny. Giving up is not an option.


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Communication in the Movie The Pursuit of Happyness

1.) For the movie “The Pursuit of Happyness” select 4 concepts from the following list. The list below can help you to pick different concepts.

A.) Culture

-dominant Culture

-high or Low Context Culture

-high or Low Power Distance



B.) Perception

-perception checking


-selective attention



C.) The Self





D.) Listening

-comprehensive Listening

-evaluative Listening

-empathic Listening

-appreciative Listening



E.) Verbal Messages




-static Evaluation

F.) Nonverbal Messages


-eye Contact

-4 Zones of space

G.) Emotional Messages

Communication in the Movie The Pursuit of Happyness

Communication in the Movie The Pursuit of Happyness


H.) Relationships







I.) Conflict






2.) Identify at least 4 scenes from the movie that feature different elements of communication. For instance, if the characters in the movie started a relationship and clearly showed the initiating stage of relationships, you could choose that element to define and describe how it was portrayed in the scene

For each scene:

  • Properly cite the definition of the communication element that is featured.
  • Describe the character interactions and how they portray the communication element.
  • Demonstrate your understanding of the communication element by analyzing how the character’s interactions portray the communication element. Please Be sure to include your insight and thoughts.

3.)Include quotes from at least 3 credible resources into your analysis. Be sure to include APA formatted in-text citations and References for the resources.

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